Railroad Shifter Retrospective

Posted by (twitter: @dollarone)
May 7th, 2016 9:33 pm

Play my LD35 game, “Railroad Shifter”, if you want!
Railroad Shifter

I made a game in 48 hours! It’s easy to forget the remarkable achievement this is in itself!

My goal was to try to make an original game that is not the first idea you get when you see the theme. I initially came up with two ideas to choose from: an anti tower defense game with shapeshifting creeps or a platformer where you can “shift” the level layout as if it was one side of a Rubik’s cube. I wanted to avoid platformers as I’ve made them for the last two LDs. I realised I could take the concept of “shifting the level” and make a pipe-dream/sliding puzzle style game instead.

The anti-tower defense game would need a lot of graphics, so I deliberately chose the “more comfortable” idea to try to keep it simple and get the game completely finished and even polished. And then I added an “extension goal” which was to have a character talk to you while you are playing. Of course, it turned out this “extension goal” took a lot of time that could have been spent on other things – but still, I think it makes the game better in some ways.

So, what went well? I think the brainstorming session I had initially was a good idea – get some options, weigh the pros and cons, before going all in on one idea. I did make the game I set out to make – and I even added the “extension goal”. I did some pixel art, and I’m quite happy with the result. I made music and I actually recorded a single take on my guitar (normally I make mistakes and have to cut and paste bits). I managed to record sounds and get the character act and respond in the way I imagined. I made a couple of good levels (4 & 5) – good in the sense that they can be solved but are not obvious – and I also made two decent introductory levels (1 & 2) to make the user understand the gameplay. And to boot, I think I fulfilled my main ambition of a non-obvious theme interpretation – I haven’t seen (so far) any games with the same mechanic. All good stuff!

But what about less good stuff? Now that I’m critically evaluating my game, and also getting feedback from the community, it’s easy to point out more and more flaws. But this is good – feedback is not just for this game, but for future games as well. For example someone pointed out that its unintuitive that the trains wait if there is no tile – you might in fact expect them to crash and fail the level. I agree – and I was arguing for and against this during the development. Also I wasn’t sure if I should allow tiles to be moved once they had been driven on – in the I did allow, and even made it compulsory in order to solve a certain level.

My main gripe, I think, is level 3. I included it as an introduction to re-using tracks and working with a larger level. However, because it’s so big, it’s really time consuming and because I didn’t explain that the trains can wait, one user was massively frustrated with this level. Level 3 should have been a nice transition from the intro levels to more advanced levels, and it’s not.

Some stuff I didn’t have time to implement – like collisions (now added to the post-compo version). The music was going to have more layers. The character was supposed to include hints and tips to the player, but that was kinda forgotten about when writing the script. More advanced tiles like tunnels, bridges, mid-stations and road-crossing were left out – I guess that’s expected. Some users reported a bug with trains driving off the map – I could have implemented that better. But what’s LD without bugs? :)

The reason for writing a retrospective is to learn for future jams, so what can I learn from this? Well, I already knew that designing levels is time consuming, but I’ll remember that a few well designed levels is fine – but do them early. Perhaps later in the day on Saturday, when the head is too hot for coding. Get enough sleep a few days before LD – it’s really worth it. I struggled mid-Saturday, and I think it was due to tiredness. As the deadline looms closer, I get hyper active and hyper-effective – next time I will try to get into the groove earlier by being well rested.

And the best thing with LD? At the end of it, you will have made another game! See you next time!

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